Materials for Decarbonization and Energy Accessibility

Our group at MIT will aim at developing material and device solutions for two current grand challenges: climate change and energy accessibility. Global energy transition to renewables is indispensable to combat these challenges and ultimately ensure the continuity of life on earth. Electrochemistry and materials play one of the most significant roles in enabling the energy transition. The Abate lab at MIT is delighted to be part of this era, to stand on the shoulder of giants and make meaningful and impactful contributions to the society through materials innovation and novel electrochemical devices. To ensure for equitable and sustainable energy transition, our group will focus on discovering high-performance, low-cost, sustainable, and environmentally friendly materials.

As a materials science and engineering group, we follow MIT’s motto “Mens et Manus”—”mind and hand”. As scientists, we ask deep questions, stay curious and create new knowledge for the next generation. As engineers, we innovate and create, stay true to the global need, and when we make impactful discoveries, we translate them through the MIT entrepreneurship ecosystem.  

Research Areas

Theme 1: Unveiling New Frontiers in Battery Materials and Chemistries

Navigating the transformation of transportation, grids, and industries towards sustainability mandates the development of economical batteries, crafted from abundant and ecologically sound elements within the critical minerals supply chain. In response, our team employs the principles of physical and material chemistry to tailor electrode materials for both lithium and sodium-based batteries. This endeavor is underpinned by a multidisciplinary approach encompassing cutting-edge computational techniques (ground and excited states) and advanced experimental methodologies (spanning electrochemistry, in-situ and ex-situ X-ray, neutron scattering, and electron microscopy). Through this comprehensive toolkit, we unravel queries across various temporal and spatial dimensions, ranging from the atomic scale to the device level.

Central to our investigations are investigations into the redox mechanisms and chemomechanics transpiring at the bulk and surface of electrodes, alongside the intricate interfacial charge transfer mechanisms. These insights, acquired through our thorough comprehension of fundamental science, serve as the cornerstone for the application of material engineering principles. Ultimately, our goal is to employ this knowledge to usher in the creation of next-generation battery materials, aligning with the principles of sustainability and fostering the realization of a cleaner energy future.

Theme 2: Unleashing the Potential of Quantum Materials through Electrochemical Tuning

Credit: Duncan MacGruer

The landscape of computing, sensing, communication, and beyond is poised for transformation by quantum materials. Among their key attributes, the ability for atomic-level dynamic tunability stands out as a linchpin to unlocking their potential. This is precisely where the field of electrochemistry takes center stage. By harnessing external current or voltage control, the precise insertion of ions (doping) into quantum materials becomes achievable at the atomic scale, ushering in reversible and finely controlled adjustments to their magnetic, optical, electronic, and surface properties.

This transformative insertion process gives rise to metastable, yet alluring states, showcasing distinctive quantum properties that remain elusive via conventional synthesis avenues such as solid-state, vapor phase, or plasma methods. Moreover, the dynamic adjustability offered by these standard techniques pales in comparison to electrochemistry. Our exploration of the fusion between electrochemistry and quantum materials is a focal point, with a focus on layered materials encompassing oxides and two-dimensional structures. Through the synergy of tools such as the Physical Property Measurement System, X-ray and neutron scattering, as well as linear and non-linear spectroscopy, we delve into this intricate junction. Operating across a spectrum of temperature conditions (descending to approximately 2 K) and magnetic field strengths, we strive to unravel the unique behaviors that emerge at the interface of electrochemistry and quantum materials.

Theme 3: Unlocking Interface Dynamics for Emerging Mining Technologies

Interfaces wield significant influence over the outcomes of both chemical and electrochemical processes. Illustratively, batteries and catalysis serve as prime demonstrations of how a nuanced comprehension and adept control over interfaces can be pivotal. Building upon this foundation, our endeavor expands the purview of interface exploration, directing its potential towards the conception of innovative mining methodologies for precious chemical extractions, whether from primary sources or through recycling. This aspiration is intrinsically linked to meeting the complex supply chain demands for critical minerals that underpin energy, transportation, and the global economy at large.

Central to our initiative is the quest to unravel the fundamental intricacies of charge transfer and reaction mechanisms transpiring at interfaces (in-situ X-ray, Raman spectroscopy and microscopy). This understanding serves as the bedrock for the deliberate engineering of these interfacial realms, a perspective that extends to the composition of effluent fluids as well (surface and additive engineering). With these insights in hand, we embark on the development of pioneering technologies designed to reshape the landscape of mining. Our overarching objectives encompass reducing the energy intensity, environmental impact, and cost of mining processes, thereby forging a path toward a more sustainable and responsible future.

Theme 4: Accelerating Material and Knowledge Discovery in Themes 1-3 through Automation, High-Throughput Experimentation and AI

Paving the path to net zero by 2050 is one of if not the most monumental undertaking in human history. Overcoming the intricate challenges in materials and devices inherent to emergent technologies demands innovative methodologies and advanced approaches. Establishing a symbiotic interplay between computational analysis and experimental exploration expedites breakthroughs, while systematic material characterization and design propel our progress towards net zero targets. To realize this objective, our laboratory harnesses the synergy of autonomous high-throughput robotic experimentation and AI technologies, including Bayesian optimization and predictive modeling. This dynamic synergy serves a dual purpose: 1) uncovering novel materials boasting exceptional efficiency and accessibility through exhaustive phase space exploration, and 2) unraveling pivotal inquiries concerning bulk, surface, and interface phenomena across the thematic domains of the three themes.

Research Approaches

With applications mentioned above in mind, we seek and explore ideas to create new materials or engineer existing ones by manipulating their electron, spin, lattice, and orbital degree of freedom. We test these ideas using ground state and excited state calculations. We will use the results to design materials (both model systems and functional materials) and test with experiments (both at the material and device level). We will apply state-of-the-art synthesis techniques (e.g. solid-state synthesis and chemical vapor deposition), electron, optical and X-ray characterization techniques (e.g. high-resolution TEM and X-ray methods both at MIT and Synchrotron sources) and quantum mechanical calculations (e.g. DFT, OCEAN and physics-based high-throughput material screening). While the figure above depicts the overall scientific research approach in our group, discoveries at times are serendipitous and we aim to keep our eye for surprises and investigate them in a holistic manner.